Barbara, left, and Marissa Barnartt pose for a photo outside their condo building in Thornhill, Ont. on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Barbara, left, and Marissa Barnartt pose for a photo outside their condo building in Thornhill, Ont. on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

COVID-19 brings some families closer together, as bonds strengthen in times of crisis

‘I didn’t realize how much all these people meant to me’

Marissa Barnartt doesn’t have to travel far to see her mother on Family Day on Monday. All she needs to do is open her bedroom door.

In late 2019, the 34-year-old financial advisor moved back in with her mother in north Toronto after giving up her apartment because of an issue with her landlord.

But the shared living arrangement turned out to be “a blessing in disguise,” says Barnartt. The COVID-19 pandemic has extended her stay for more than a year now, bringing mother and daughter closer together than ever.

After losing her father about a decade ago, Barnartt says the crisis has given her the chance to reconnect with the woman who raised her — this time as roommates. And while she wouldn’t mind a bit more space, there’s no one else she’d rather shelter-in-place with.

“Our lives were always very busy between school, work, extracurriculars,” she said. “It is nice knowing that we have that quality time now that we didn’t necessarily have with my dad… Even if it’s too much sometimes.”

While pandemic-related restrictions have separated many families, some Canadians are reuniting with relatives to support each other through the crisis, often rekindling bonds that had perhaps been neglected in the bustle of pre-lockdown life.

The Barnartts said they’ve not only had to relearn how to live together, but have discovered new ways they can rely on each other.

Barbara Barnartt said she’s happy to spare her daughter the cost of rent in return for some help with a home renovation.

“She’s got somebody to talk to, and I’ve got somebody to talk to,” Barbara Barnartt said. “It’s really helped us both.”

Times of crisis tend to pull families together, often because of increased pressure to pool resources such as money and housing, said Barbara Mitchell, a professor of sociology and gerontology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

ALSO READ: Readers weigh in on change to B.C. Family Day

But the process of sorting into social bubbles has also forced people to think about the relationships that matter most to them, and more often than not, close family members tend to outrank the rest, Mitchell said.

“Families are incredibly resilient,” she said. “They have this capacity to weather storms and bounce back from adversity in ways that can actually make them stronger.”

For Karen Avey, the pandemic presented the inadvertent “gift” of being able to see how much her son has grown since moving to Shanghai five years ago to study traditional Chinese medicine.

Late one night last March, Avey heard a knock on the door of her home in Brantford, Ont., and was stunned to find her 24-year-old standing on her porch.

“You’re going to be mad,” he told her, explaining that he’d been quarantining at his father’s house for two weeks without telling her, because he knew nothing would stop her from trying to see him.

“That was absolutely true,” Avey said. “Then we sat on the sofa, stuck together like glue.”

After he left for school in 2016, Avey said her son had only been able to visit home a handful of times because of the rigours of his program. Now, he’s just a short drive away at his father’s house while working together at his medical clinic.

Avey said her son will only see her outside on the porch to reduce the risk of exposing her to the virus, but she still manages to sneak in the occasional hug as she marvels at the accomplished young man her boy has become.

“It’s a whole new level of pride in who he is, what he wants to do and what he’s doing now.”

Melanie Billark said her grandmother was her “rock” growing up, so when the 82-year-old needed someone to take care of her, she didn’t hesitate to return the favour.

A few months into lockdown, Billark said her grandmother was hospitalized for a psychotic episode after she stopped taking medication for her dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Since then, the 30-year-old artist has been travelling from Toronto to her grandmother’s long-term care home in Oakville to help her relearn routines and counsel her through her mental health struggles.

“If the roles were reversed, which they were before, she would have done anything for us,” she said. “I feel it’s my job now to help her.”

Billark admitted that her new role as caretaker has been both “a blessing and a curse.” With every visit, she has to weigh the risks of infection against the psychological toll of social isolation.

“I have all of this responsibility on my shoulders,” she said. “But it’s the benefit of her own mental health and stability and having contact with someone that it kind of outweighs everything for me.”

While Allison Bradley in Kelowna, B.C., can’t see her parents on a regular basis, in some ways, she feels like she’s spending more time with them than ever.

Bradley said video chat has allowed her and the rest of her family to “visit” her 87-year-old mother and 90-year-old father every weekend, giving them a chance to see their first great grandchild grow up from afar.

She’s also taken the time to digitally reconnect with relatives across the globe, some of whom she hadn’t seen in years.

“I didn’t realize how much all these people meant to me,” she said.

“All of a sudden, we’re not so wrapped up in our own little worlds, and we’re remembering to reach out to the people that we care about.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusFamily activities

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

From left: Councillor Lucy Taylor, Councillor Barry Banford, Councillor Bill Haring, Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Councillor Lynne Frizzle, Councillor Lyle Mckenzie and Councillor Shelley Sim. (District of Clearwater photo)
Council to consider raising taxes in 2021

The District of Clearwater council is considering a tax increase this year… Continue reading

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

The BC Prosecution Service announced last year that it was appointing lawyer Marilyn Sandford as a special prosecutor to review the case, following media inquiries about disclosure issues linked to a pathologist involved in the matter. (Black Press Media files)
Possible miscarriage of justice in B.C. woman’s conviction in toddler drowning: prosecutor

Tammy Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty in 2013 to the lesser charge

A kid in elementary school wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Metro Creative)
Union asks why an elementary school mask rule wouldn’t work in B.C. if it does elsewhere

B.C. education minister announced expansion of mask-wearing rules in middle, high school but not elementary students

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: B.C. teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Most Read